The Problems of Writing Sequels

writing, sequels, series
Some stories need sequels

I’m currently writing a sequel to The Wind Reader, the book coming out from Inspired Quill in September, so I’ve been thinking about sequels and wondering what makes a good one.

Specifically, two questions arise, one having to do with the outer arc of plot and other with the inner arc of character development. Continue reading “The Problems of Writing Sequels”

Plot vs. Chronology: What’s the Difference?

The calendar is ending! We are all doomed!

My middle-grade fantasy, Finders Keepers, turns partly on the struggle to avert a disaster that will occur when the calendar changes to the year 4000. As the story approaches New Year’s Eve, 3999, a plague kills more and more people, earthquakes swallow buildings, and floods threaten to drown the city. All will be lost unless the book’s 12-year-old hero, Cade, is willing to risk his own well-being to save everyone else.

I got the idea for that plot point while I was drafting this book in 2012. The internet was abuzz with speculation over what might happen on 12/21/12, the last date on an ancient Mayan calendar. Speculation that the world would end was so common that NASA did a podcast explaining why it wouldn’t.

The furor reminded me of similar fears when the calendar rolled over to the year 2000, and we endured the so-called Y2K panic. Even some rational people feared civilization would collapse because of computer problems caused by the date change. Given how dependent we are on computers, it was hard to say people had no reason to worry, but a portion of the population entered into the panic with gusto, buying guns and stocking up on food and fuel. They generalized from a computer glitch to a gigantic social meltdown, and in a few cases, the end of the world.

Why do people put so much weight on the change from one page of the calendar to the next? After all, dates are a humanly created and somewhat arbitrary system. Why do we lend them such significance? Continue reading “Plot vs. Chronology: What’s the Difference?”

The value of subtext and how to achieve it

Subtext, how to create subtext
Subtext is below the surface

Lately I’ve been musing on subtext, the things that aren’t explicitly in a text and yet are present by implication. Readers and movie goers like subtext because it allows them to speculate and thus involve themselves in the storytelling. They like it so much that Hollywood has a saying that if the scene is about what the scene is about, you’re in trouble. Continue reading “The value of subtext and how to achieve it”

Three ways experts differ from the rest of us

People become experts in three ways
It’s Always Possible to Get Better

How do people become experts in any field, including writing?

I recently read Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated. Colvin is an editor for Fortune magazine, so his main interest is in improving corporate performance. However, he writes about the research on the differences between expert and novice performances in areas ranging from sports to music. My focus, of course, was writing and how I might become a better writer.

I like his claim of talent being overrated. I’m not sure I even believe in the concept of inborn talent. Oh, some people do various things better than others. But how do they get to that level of performance? Continue reading “Three ways experts differ from the rest of us”

What Creates a Powerful Character Voice?

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with the subtle, hard-to-pin-down subject of voice in fiction. I’m not talking about the writer’s voice, but about that of the point of view character. As a friend of mine once said, a good novel needs three things: interesting characters, something fascinating for them to do, and a strong voice. When I heard that, I knew it was right. But my first thought was, “If only doing that was as easy as it sounds!” My second was, “How can I get a better handle on voice?” Continue reading “What Creates a Powerful Character Voice?”

Three Tips to Avoid Passive Voice and Passive Writing

On one writers board I frequent, people repeatedly warn about using forms of the verb “to be” because that would be “passive voice” and that’s bad writing. Every time I read that, my blood pressure rises a little. Allow me to differentiate between passive voice, emphasis on action, and the delights of characters who shape situations rather than just respond to them.

Passive voice

Warning: Grammar ahead

The terms “active voice” and “passive voice” apply only to transitive verbs, i.e. verbs that pass action from an actor to a receiver. In an active voice sentence, the subject of the sentence is the actor. For example, in “John hit the ball,” “John” is both the subject of the sentence and the one who’s doing the hitting. In a passive voice sentence, the subject of the sentence is the receiver of the action. For example, in “The ball was hit by John,” “ball” is the subject and is being hit.

Passive voice is useful if you want to hide the doer because you can omit the “by” phrase (The ball was hit). It’s also useful if the receiver of the action is more important than the doer (Ross Hall was built…). However, passive voice sentences are slightly but measurably slower to read and harder to comprehend. Continue reading “Three Tips to Avoid Passive Voice and Passive Writing”

Book Contract with Inspired Quill

I’m happy to announce that I’ve signed a book contract with Inspired Quill to publish The Wind Reader in September, 2018.

Inspired Quill

Inspired Quill is a small, UK press that thinks of itself as a “social enterprise,” meaning it looks to give back to the community. I’m very excited to be working with them. Continue reading “Book Contract with Inspired Quill”

How Studying Engineers Surprisingly Matches Writing Fantasy

I’ve spent a huge portion of my adult life researching the writing of engineers. I won six national awards for that work, including one from IEEE. You’d think nothing could be farther from writing a middle-grade or YA fantasy. When I wrote my first novel, however, I realized I was still doing some of the same work. First, I was making the familiar strange and the strange familiar. And second, even more important, I was trying to understand the workings of power. Continue reading “How Studying Engineers Surprisingly Matches Writing Fantasy”